Giving a dam: how hydropower is destroying Europe's rivers

Posted on July, 19 2021

Stories from across Europe reveal the damage done to nature by hydropower, and why public subsidies must end.

The fish and wildlife that live in our rivers are being lost faster than ever. This is because rivers that should be free-flowing are broken up by barriers like hydroelectric dams: according to a recent EEA briefing, these river barriers in Europe are one of the leading causes of more than an 80% decline in freshwater biodiversity and the loss of 55% of monitored migratory fish populations. 

Hydropower is still developing at a fast speed in Europe, with more than 8000 plants in the pipeline that will continue harming our fish and rivers, although evidence suggests that its share in the EU electricity generation will decline from 2020 onwards1. State subsidies are one of the drivers behind the development of hydropower in Europe. Without state aid, most of the small hydropower plants built nowadays would never be profitable and would not be built.

It’s not too late. We can still take action to protect freshwater species. In 2021, the European Commission is holding a public consultation on the revision of its energy and environment state aid guidelines - the EEAG - to bring them in line with the goals of the European Green Deal. Right now, state aid for hydropower projects is allowed - meaning taxpayers' money is spent on it, despite the damage it does to fish and freshwater life! In line with our hydropower manifesto supported by 150+ NGOs, WWF asks that new hydropower facilities should no longer be eligible for state aid. Join us to say no to new hydropower in Europe by replying to the public consultation.

Over the upcoming weeks, we will share a series of case studies, ‘Giving a dam: how hydropower is destroying Europe's rivers, with you. We will explore the impact of small hydropower plants on freshwater in Europe through local examples showing how state aid contributes to this deterioration of freshwater ecosystems. This week, we analyse a power plant project in Vichy, France. It is planned in some of the last wild rivers in Europe, home to several species of protected migratory fish. Make sure to read our case study here. 


1- CAN Europe, European Environmental Bureau, Building a Paris Agreement Compatible (PAC) energy scenario, 2020.